We adjourned the 2021 General Session late Friday night after passing 503 bills. As my inaugural session, it was distinctly marked by the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks and plexiglass dividers became staples within the Capitol, and we introduced virtual public comments during committee hearings—an unprecedented step for our legislative process, but a great advancement to allow people throughout the state to be able to participate in the legislative process without having to travel to the capitol. Despite these hurdles, we persevered and achieved significant legislative progress. Here are some of the key highlights:

SW Valley Transportation Funding

A cornerstone achievement of the 2021 legislative session was the unprecedented investment in infrastructure within the Southwest corner of the Salt Lake Valley. Through HB433, we successfully funded the conversion of all Bangerter Highway interchanges from SR-201 to 2700 West, with significant upgrades at 9800 South and 13400 South. Additionally, key local improvements were financed:

  • South Jordan was allocated $1.1 million for upgrades to Grandville Avenue.
  • Herriman received $1 million to enhance Herriman Blvd from 6800 West to 7300 West.
  • Riverton was granted $1.8 million for Old Liberty Way, improving the stretch from 13400 South to 13200 South.
  • Bluffdale secured funding to address issues in the 14600 South Construction Trestle Area, a significant concern for the community.

Furthermore, HB244 empowered Salt Lake County cities to finance their most critical transportation projects by bonding against the “quarter of a quarter” fund, a novel legislative approach allowing for unprecedented local control over transportation solutions.

This monumental investment in our transportation infrastructure was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Southwest legislators—including Senators Fillmore, Harper, and McCay, and Representatives Acton, Christiansen, Pierucci, Pulsipher, and Strong—who worked tirelessly alongside local mayors, county and city council members, and community advocates to prioritize our community’s needs. A heartfelt thank you to everyone involved in bringing these projects to fruition!

Checks on Emergency Powers

One of the pivotal legislations from the 2021 session was SB 195, which introduced balanced checks on executive emergency powers to ensure appropriate response capabilities during prolonged emergencies without impeding immediate actions for day-to-day crises like natural disasters or chemical spills. Here’s how SB 195 reshapes emergency authority:

Enhanced Legislative Oversight and Local Empowerment

  • Checks on Restrictive Orders: Establishes legislative checks on broad emergency public health orders, such as isolation, quarantine, and restrictions on gatherings or property.
  • Legislative Termination Powers: The legislature now has the authority to terminate certain state and local health department orders, as well as emergency actions by city or county executives.
  • Local Authority: Local governing bodies may now terminate orders by their local health departments and emergency declarations by local executives.
  • Notification Requirements: Local health departments must notify local county governing bodies before declaring public health emergencies or issuing significant orders.

Strengthening Public Participation and State Preparedness

  • Nullification and Expiration: Specifies conditions under which various emergency declarations will expire and can be extended only with legislative or local approval.
  • Re-declaration of Emergencies: Allows state and local authorities to re-declare emergencies under exigent circumstances without initial governing body approval but requires subsequent notification and justification.

Committee Reviews and Religious Protections

  • Legislative Emergency Response Committee: This newly formed committee, comprising members from the Executive Appropriations Committee and additional appointments, will convene to receive public input and expert advice, especially before extending emergency orders.
  • Religious Gatherings: Establishes that emergency restrictions on religious gatherings cannot be more stringent than those on other public assemblies and must be the least restrictive means available.

Reducing Penalties

  • Business and Individual Fines: Reduces the maximum fine for businesses from $10,000 to $5,000 and sets individual fines at a maximum of $150, limiting the frequency of fines unless actions are willfully harmful.

Administrative Oversight

  • Rule Review: The Administrative Rules Review Committee is tasked with evaluating and recommending on administrative rules implemented under emergency conditions, ensuring they are justified and effective.

SB 195 thus increases transparency, accountability, and public participation in managing extended emergencies, fortifying Utah’s readiness and responsiveness for future crises.

Concealed Carry Reform

In a significant move early in the session, we passed legislation that eliminated the requirement for a concealed carry permit to carry a hidden, loaded firearm in public for individuals over the age of 21 who are legally allowed to possess a firearm. This change is designed to uphold Second Amendment rights while simplifying the legal landscape around carrying firearms. Key points of this legislation include:

  • Permitless Concealed Carry: Allows lawful firearm owners aged 21 and over to carry concealed firearms without a permit, aligning with our state’s existing laws on permitless open carry.
  • Optional Permit System Maintained: The concealed carry permitting system remains intact, providing an option for those who seek permits for reasons such as reciprocity with other states.
  • Enhanced Public Safety Measures: Despite the relaxation of permit requirements, the bill includes substantial funding for suicide prevention, ensuring that public safety and mental health are addressed alongside gun rights.

This legislative adjustment not only respects the rights of gun owners but also aims to reduce the frequency of permitless open carry by providing a straightforward pathway for concealed carrying. This approach balances personal freedoms with public safety concerns, making it a comprehensive reform for responsible firearm handling.

Budget Overview

This year’s budget clearly prioritizes key areas such as infrastructure and education, ensuring significant investments that will benefit our state’s growth and development:

  • Infrastructure Investments: We allocated $115 million in one-time funding for an infrastructure development account, boosting our capacity to improve essential services and facilities. Additionally, about $100 million has been designated for enhancing state parks and trails, enriching our recreational infrastructure and preserving natural resources.
  • Education Funding: Public education saw a substantial increase, with approximately $400 million added to the base budget. During the General Session, we further approved an additional $76.5 million, reflecting our commitment to strengthening educational outcomes. Higher education is also a significant beneficiary, receiving over $100 million for the construction of new buildings and the acquisition of land, facilitating growth and expansion across our higher education institutions.
  • Housing and Homelessness: Addressing housing and homelessness remains a critical concern, with $50 million set aside to tackle these pressing issues. This includes refunding an affordable housing bill that had previously seen cuts, reaffirming our dedication to supporting vulnerable populations.
  • Restoration of Previously Cut Funds: In response to the economic recovery post-pandemic, we restored funding to several bills that had experienced cuts last summer. This restoration underscores our commitment to continue supporting vital programs and initiatives that were temporarily impacted by financial constraints due to the pandemic.

These budgetary decisions demonstrate a balanced approach to addressing immediate needs while also investing in long-term projects that will serve the citizens of Utah for years to come.